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Times Werner Herzog Was Cooler Than You

Let’s get something out of the way right now: Werner Herzog is cooler than you are. Facts: he has a cool German accent, gets down with the jungle, has had better mustaches than you, and (let’s face it) has made better art than you will. Now that that’s settled, we can get into some cool Herzog stories. Here are seven times Werner Herzog was specifically, demonstrably cooler than you:

1. That time he walked across Europe.

In 1974, Herzog’s friend, the film critic Lotte Eisner, was dying in Paris. Upon hearing the news, Herzog declared that in fact she would not die, saying: “She is not dying now because she isn’t dying.” Word. Herzog decided to travel by foot, with only a duffel bag, from his home in Munich to Paris. According to Google Maps, the trek should take 159 hours, but that’s not really accounting for stuff like German winter, sleeping, or eating, so why don’t you just stuff it, Google Maps? In reality, the trek took him 3 weeks, and he recently released his private diaries from this time as a book, Of Walking in Ice. Turns out he was right, after all: she wasn’t dying. Lotte Eisner lived another nine years.

2. That time he ate his own shoe (kind of).

This is the kind of stuff legends are made of. In the late 70s, Herzog challenged (now) legendary documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, by saying he would eat his own shoe if Morris ever finished his first feature-length doc. When Gates of Heaven was wrapped up in 1980, Herzog had no choice but to live up to his vow. Yet another legend, filmmaker Les Blank, filmed the proceedings. Here’s the act in question:

3. That time he saved Joaquin Phoenix from a car wreck.

Los Angeles is a small town:

4. That time he got shot in the middle of an interview and continued on because it was not a significant bullet.

5. That time he pulled a boat over a mountain.

In making Fitzcarraldo, the story of a man who dreams of bringing opera to the jungle, but first needs to create an empire and decides it’s a great idea to pull a boat over a mountain, Herzog decided that to really bring credence to the tale he needed to actually go through with pulling a dang boat over a mountain. So he did. The result is one of his best films, and the behind-the-scenes masterwork Burden of Dreams (from Les Blank once again) is almost as good as Herzog’s finished product.

6. That time he jumped into a bed of cacti to celebrate finishing his second film.

If you haven’t seen Even Dwarfs Started Small, I would urge you to do so–but at your own peril. It’s a tough movie to recommend because it’s so strange and specific, but if it’s your kind of thing it’s really great. In short, the production was filled with peril. One of the actors was run over by a car, and another was accidentally set on fire. After the second incident, Herzog promised that if nobody else got hurt for the remainder of the production, he would jump into a bed of cacti. Ever true to his word, he did it.

7. That time he gazed into the abyss, came back changed, and spent the rest of his life making beautiful films about man’s insignificance and the two sides of the same coin: the sublime and the absurd.

Thanks, Werner!